Ryan Blaney has won his first career NASCAR Cup Series championship with a second-place finish in today's Championship Four finale race at Phoenix, beating out fellow contender Kyle Busch in a late battle for the position and title. Blaney, who needed to beat all three of Larson, William Byron, and Christopher Bell in this race to take the championship, breaks through after finishing between 10th and 7th every year since 2017.
William Byron controlled the race and title fight early from pole, beating out a retiring Kevin Harvick for a stage 1 win that is irrelevant to Championship Four contenders. Blaney finished that stage in tenth, behind all three of his competitors for the title. Blaney's car came alive as Byron's faded, with Blaney eventually passing all three contenders and taking the net championship lead in third just over a hundred laps into the race.
Christopher Bell's day ended when his brakes failed shortly afterward. That set up a three-car race between Blaney and the two Hendrick teammates, who Blaney had to pass again after the beginning of the second stage. Blaney then turned his sights to a leading Ross Chastain, who refused to cede an inch over the course of a long battle that cut Blaney's lead on Byron to just under two seconds before a late yellow for a spinning Kyle Busch.
In the pit lane, Blaney's title almost disappeared. Despite entering the pits in second, he came out sixth. Crucially, he lost two spots to the two contending Hendrick cars that chose the same tire strategy. Blaney made quick work of Byron on the restart, but his battle with Larson lasted over ten laps before he finally made a move stick and pulled away to a gradual championship lead. Chastain went on to win the race, but Blaney would take the all-important championship by beating his remaining title rivals on track.
Blaney becomes a champion in his eighth season of full-time NASCAR Cup Series racing, his sixth with Team Penske. The title win comes just a few weeks after his season looked dead in the water with a disqualification at Las Vegas, but that ruling was overturned a day later and Blaney made the Championship Four after a decisive win at Martinsville last weekend. That win gave Blaney his first-ever shot at a Cup Series championship, one that he wasted no time converting into the 2023 title in NASCAR's premier series.
The title is the second in a row for Team Penske, which also won with Joey Logano last season. The iconic open wheel and sports car racing team also won the 2012 title with Brad Keselowski and the 2018 championship with Logano. The team's third current driver, Austin Cindric, won the Daytona 500 in his first race as a full-time Cup Series driver last season.
Blaney's first race as a NASCAR champion will be the 2024 pre-season race at the Los Angeles Coliseum on February 4th. The 2024 season officially begins with the Daytona 500 two weekends later.
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